Writer/director Alê Abreu‘s O Menino e o Mundo [Boy & the World] is nothing if not a breath of fresh air against the animation medium’s otherwise stagnant aesthetic of glossy computerized fare. Not only does he dive back into a traditional hand-drawn style, he does so with an un-polished rough-edged crayon texture to make it appear as if a drawing on a piece of paper has come to life. The way he makes environments disappear so his titular boy Cuca is left with nothing but a white void and the tiny sound bubbles holding the pan-flute melody his father plays helps in showing how a person created each detail—no computer algorithm-based worlds to see here. Instead it’s as though Joan Miro‘s paintings were put in motion.
This sense of craft is imbued from the start as we zoom out from a tiny dot to colored circles that explode into a kaleidoscopic pattern of shapes soon forming the faux moiré pattern behind all we’re about to see. It’s like a progression from atoms in a microscope to the reality of our eyes, dot matrices squishing together to form the harshly pressed colored lines filling in a rock Cuca has placed atop the earth where he’s buried a canister holding the final remnants of his father’s trademarked tune. Dad has recently left their rural setting to find work in the city by train. And even though Cuca sees him where he should be, those memories quickly dissolve to show he and Mom are alone.
Enter a desire to find him alongside a fateful gust of wind to take him there and this kinetic journey set to Brazilian hip-hop commences. The prologue of Cuca traveling higher and higher from that rainbow rock to the clouds with his colorful home below just whets our appetite because what follows is a world all its own. He travels to the cotton fields of migrant workers picking—an old man with a yapping dog providing a sense of place and safety. Next he meets a younger soul working the assembly line in a factory turning that cotton into spools of fabric for consumption. But this is merely his day job as the weekends show him turning his bicycle into a one-man band contraption to entertain the city.
And all the while Cuca keeps his eyes open for clues towards his father’s whereabouts. He thinks he sees him through windows, follows a paper trail of job fliers, and desperately searches for the train that took him away in case it may also bring him back. It’s a mix of vibrant life and joyous sounds masking the loneliness we know he must feel—less abandoned and more hopeful his family will one day be together again. There’s simplicity in this, his movements literally going where the wind takes him, and yet Abreu will soon reveal a complexity we cannot begin to imagine. Past, present, and future seemingly merge into a single waking memory of that hope; home forever waiting a miraculous return to how things were.
Unfortunately this micro tale of love lost and found isn’t where Abreu’s goals end. The artist also wants to give a sense of our planet’s hopelessness in the face of humanity’s destructive nature. Think Happy Feet only subtler until he too burns away the paper of cartoon to show actual footage of mankind’s follies towards nature. Whereas George Miller‘s attempts to shoe-horn in a heavy-handed slap across the face of ecological guilt completely ruined his otherwise happy-go-lucky ugly duckling fable, however, Boy & the World keeps its agenda in the background save those thirty seconds or so. While his world is dismantling with technology ravaging Mother Nature and the livelihood of farmers/laborers, it’s ultimately a story of how this affects Cuca and how he survives it.
The other thing that helps you forget this slip into political agenda is the stunning animation and the synergistic relationship built with the music. You don’t need subtitles or an understanding of Portuguese—I treated his parents’ words like the warbling of adults in “Peanuts”. We understand all we need through the boy’s longing and watch as Abreu takes a single curvy white line and transforms it into a road and ocean with little change besides where the cart he’s riding is positioned atop it. And the vantage remains two-dimensional throughout with the only difference between a three-quarter angle and full overhead being the amount of detail shown. Rows of trees in full splendor with identical workers picking is the former, small graphic circles the latter.
My favorite artistic flourish has to be the design of signage and advertising. Street signs are upside or backwards newspaper clippings cropped in the middle of letters so the look means more than content. People on TV or billboards either have their faces whited-out with dark lines similar to Cuca replacing them or cutout lips and eyes making them appear like warped pictogram ransom notes. The city’s grouped into a tall triangle, each house a colorful nondescript box—shapes upon shapes with rough lines and seamless animation filling the screen. The whole is just as alive as the music, our toes tapping and hearts racing in hopes of a well-earned reunion. And even though the end proves bittersweet, it’s a tonally perfect conclusion to a beautifully complex dance.
courtesy of GKIDS